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Allentown high schools add personal finance, 4 new language courses

File photo
An empty hallway at William Allen High School.

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — New courses are on the way for the Allentown School District's high schools, with the hopes that they can connect students to new careers and new cultures.

Thirteen half-credit and four one-credit courses will be added in the next two school years - including Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese and American Sign languages.

All but Mandarin are proposed for the 2024-2025 school year, with Mandarin proposed for 2025-2026.

The language expansion adds to Spanish, German and English as a second language course offerings.

Also added is a highly requested personal financial literacy course, and courses meant to offer specific career opportunities — such as video and media production, EMT certification, robotics engineering and fashion design.

The Allentown School Board approved the proposed update to the program of studies at its Thursday meeting. Officials say the additions will be accounted for in the upcoming 2024-2025 budget.

Board members listened to a presentation on the program additions by Melissa Smith, executive director of learning and teaching. Following the discussion, board members spoke excitedly about the prospects of the new courses and the opportunities they could bring students.

Birks Allentown
Jay Bradley
Allentown schools Superintendent Carol Birks with solicitor Jeffrey T. Sultanik during Thursday's meeting.

"I feel like now we're going to be on the map," said school board member LaTarsha Brown. "Now we're being competitive to what charter schools and other schools are doing around here. So I expect to see a lot of students coming back to the district. It's really exciting."

Additions fueled by community's feedback

Superintendent Carol Birks said the administration is "aggressively recruiting" to help meet the faculty demands of the new classes.

"We're so excited about all these great opportunities for our students," Birks said. "We're reimagining the district together so that our students have equitable access to amazing new technologies, new innovations.

"My team, I have to commend them. They're doing a lot of hard work, researching and coming up with ideas to give our kids you know, all the amazing resources that they deserve."

The changes follow surveying 1,875 high school students, focus group work, and garnering feedback from staff this school year.

Two cultural interest courses were added, specifically citing the results of the surveys. Seventy-two percent of student survey respondents were interested in a Latin American Studies course, while 43% were interested in an African American Studies course — both of which also were added.

A big focus, school district officials say, was parents' desire for their children to be bilingual and multilingual.

Other priorities are skills for managing personal finances and financial decision-making, and greater opportunities for practical career knowledge. The Pennsylvania Department of Education will require such a course be in place by the 2026-2027 school year.

"These are courses that they requested, we surveyed them, we conducted focus groups, and this is what they told us that they want as part of their learning experiences," Birks said.

Dual-enrollment college credits get bolstered

Many dual enrollment college credit opportunities with Lehigh Carbon Community College were also added in the new plan. While there is some additional cost for students, with per-credit cost typically set at $70, this allows students to graduate with transferrable college credits.

Among the language courses College German 1, Elementary Spanish I and II, and American Sign Language I will be offered as dual-enrollment college courses with LCCC.

Allentown City Hall, Allentown Arts Park, Lehigh County Jail, prison, Allentown Center City, Lehigh Valley, Allentown School District
Donna S. Fisher
For LehighValleyNews.com
This is the Allentown School District Administration Building in Allentown

Industrial mathematics, intermediate algebra, fundamentals of biology, introduction to environmental science, U.S. history since Reconstruction, and Western civilization were also added to the roster, along with a set of business, health and programming electives.

Intro to communication and speech, literacy and comprehension 2, calculus, anatomy, anthropology, psychology 2, mental health and wellness, French language and culture, American sign language 1, 2 and 3, and environmental science will also be added to the virtual campus offerings.

Some name changes - such as the parenting course becoming child growth and development — were also implemented in the official list of programming.

Full list of added courses include:

Social Studies:

  • Latin American Studies (Elective, 0.5 credits)
  • African American Studies (Elective, 0.5 credits)


  • Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) Basic Course (grade 12, Elective, 1.0 credits, partners with Allentown Emergency Services)

Business and Technology

  • Personal Finance Literacy (Elective, 0.5 credits)
  • Architectural Drawing and Design (Grades 10-12, Elective, 0.5 credits)
  • Robotics Engineering (Grades 10-12, Elective, 0.5 credits)
  • Elements of Electrical Education (Grades 10-12, Elective, 0.5 credits)
  • Video Media Production (Grades 10-12, Elective, 0.5 credits)


  • Business Writing (Elective, 0.5 credits)
  • Digital Literacy (Elective, 0.5 credits)

World Languages

  • Introduction to American Sign Language (Elective, 0.5 credits)
  • Arabic I (Elective, 1.0 credits)
  • French I (Elective, 1.0 credits)
  • Mandarin Chinese I (Elective, 1.0 credits)

Related arts

  • Fashion Design (Elective, 0.5 credits)
  • Sports Performance PE (9-12 Elective, 0.5 credits)

The full list of course revisions and additions can be viewed here.